Connection Through Art

Stomp the Stigma Art Show to take place May 18 in Kalispell, featuring the work of Western Montana Mental Health Center clients

By Molly Priddy
Levi Detwiler shows one of his paintings at Western Montana Mental Health Center on May 11. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Levi Detwiler is already an affable guy, a big smile on his face and easy conversation just a hello away.

But his eyes light up even more when he’s talking about or showing his art, which hangs proudly on the walls at Western Montana Mental Health Center in Kalispell.

“When I was in high school I never thought I could do art,” Detwiler, 21, said. “The first painting I did, I thought it was a weird waterfall, but my teacher said it was good and that I should stick with it.”

A few years later, Detwiler moved into an adult group home here, and art became part of his life again when art instructor Sharon Cowan became his mentor.

“She is the one who was teaching me and giving me tips,” Levi said. “Now I’m doing a painting on my own.”

Two of Detwiler’s landscape paintings — depicting a smoky island on Flathead Lake and the northern lights in Alaska, respectively — will be part of the third annual Stomp the Stigma Art Show, taking place May 18 from 4 – 8 p.m.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Ron Fournier, the adult day treatment program manager at WMMHC, said the art show has been a good way for the community to get to know the facility and its clients and residents. If more people make connections and learn about mental health, the stigma surrounding it dies a little more.

Art therapy was already part of the activities at WMMHC when Fournier decided to spearhead the art show to bring more awareness.

“Every year our art is getting better and better,” Fournier said. “We have almost everyone in this art show.”

In previous years, the artists usually came from the art therapy class, but this year, the staff encouraged all the clients and residents at WMMHC to participate. That means there are around 65 pieces of art for sale, Fournier said.

“Everything is for sale,” he said.

The proceeds from the painting go to the artist, minus the cost for a frame if it’s framed. Otherwise, all the cash goes to the creators. The art show will also include a silent auction, featuring locally donated items, and the funds from the auction will go toward buying more art supplies for the clients.

Painting is a popular activity with the clients, including members of the crisis-stabilization house. Some of those folks might be at WMMHC in the midst of a crisis, make a painting during their stay, and then move on, leaving the work behind. That was the beginning of the center’s permanent collection.

Client art serves a couple purposes when it hangs on the walls at WMMHC, Fournier said; not only is it beautiful and creative, but it’s also a reminder of whom the staff is working for, he said.

Some paintings are of well-known cartoon characters, and others are of animals, plants, and characters known only to the artists. Other creations include those like Detwiler’s, which evoke a sense of wilderness and peace in the mountains. Now, he’s working on a tree, and it’s giving him some troubles.

“I’ve never tried a tree before,” he said, laughing.

It’s a nice tree with plenty of branches; Detwiler hadn’t yet decided if he needed to paint another tree on the canvas with which the first tree could share roots. He jokes and says he was expressing anger while sponge-painting the leaves because it wasn’t turning out how he saw it in his mind, but that joke is rooted in truth.

“I get to express my whole body and my whole emotions,” he said, adding a slight dance move as a flourish to his words. “It’s like you have all these bottled-up emotions, and then it’s like laying out your emotions.”

For more information on Western Montana Mental Health Center in Kalispell and its services, visit or call (406) 257-1336. It’s located at 410 Windward Way.

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